Issue 1 – 15 March 2021

All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated

Brooks Williams Live | Cast Theatre, Doncaster

I’ve always considered it odd, if not nigh on impossible, to review a live gig if you’re not actually there, yet in these wildly extraordinary times, this is precisely the way it goes.  Under normal circumstances, just prior to a show, there would be the mandatory swift beer at the bar, a chat to one or two familiar faces in the foyer and perhaps a brief perusal over items at the concessions stall as we await the final call for showtime.  Then there would be the awkward search for the seat that matches the number on your ticket, which occasionally involves climbing over an elderly couple on the end row seats or scaling the east face of the large gentleman in seat number 26, who has already taken off his shoes and stretched out his legs as if he were on a beach in the Algarve.  Not tonight though, as I take a leisurely stroll from my kitchen to the PC, with a freshly brewed coffee in hand, then immediately settle in front of the wide screen, flanked by two purposeful speakers, positioned for best effect, I await the arrival of the Georgia-born singer and guitarist Brooks Williams, who is probably still backstage at the Cast Theatre in Doncaster’s deserted town centre, just four miles from where I am sitting, awaiting his curtain call.  Brooks has been to Doncaster before on numerous occasions and I’ve been fortunate enough to catch his performances at both the Regent Hotel and at the Ukrainian Centre, home of the Roots Music Club, either on his own as a soloist or with Boo Hewerdine in the guise of State of the Union.  Tonight though, Brooks is very much on his own, armed with a couple of guitars, which as we wait, are positioned centre stage before a backdrop of deep red curtains.  Just prior to the live stream, I familiarise myself with a bunch of online videos that Brooks recently made with a handful of respected musicians, including Rab Noakes, Christine Collister, Katie Spencer and Aaron Catlow; not a bad support show it has to be said.  Unfortunately, the initial live stream wasn’t as successful as planned, which Brooks was completely unaware of, prompting a mixed reception from the fans who watched online, ranging between empathetic understanding, that these are exceptional times and things can go wrong, to anger and frustration from those eager to see Brooks on stage.  Despite carrying on regardless as backstage staff scurried around in an attempt to fix the problem, the minutes counted down at a terrific rate, with the online event collapsing into mini disaster territory. Nevertheless, through the efforts of the staff at Cast Theatre, a glitch-free recording was uploaded just a few days after and redistributed to original ticket holders, who could then enjoy the set once again in the comfort of their own armchair and this time, with great sound and with the added ability to stop proceedings half way through to replenish their respective beverages without missing a single note.  Brooks looks completely relaxed onstage, which was filmed from two angles, opening with “Frank Delandry”, a song he claims to be his most requested. ‘If I had a greatest hit, this would be it’ he says.  The curious thing about this concert is that it could easily have been filmed in one of the smaller spaces, but in true showbiz fashion, Brooks was given the entire main auditorium to play with, which gives the performance a sense of priority.  We tend to imagine the applause, which is reduced to just a ripple from the handful of theatre staff present, who attempt to bring atmosphere to what is obviously a fine performance.  ‘Get out your hankies’ says Brooks as a prelude to one of the set’s great performances, just before launching into the old Paul Metsers song “Farewell to the Gold”, a song lifted from Nic Jones’ seminal Penguin Eggs album, which Brooks claims to have left him ‘gobsmacked’ upon first hearing it.  Planted firmly into a pair of cowboy boots, with his long grey locks positioned as if blowing on the prairie, Brooks continues with “King of California”, bringing the spirit and expanse of his homeland to this very much locked down South Yorkshire venue.  Later in the hour-long performance, Brooks transforms his acoustic guitar into a workable banjo for the old fiddle tune “Elk River Blues”, which provides a warm interlude midway through the show.  With further mention of such musicians as Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotton and Mississippi John Hurt, Brooks was only too happy to pay tribute to one of his all time heroes, who would’ve been celebrating his birthday, with a bluesy reading of Watson’s timeless “Sitting on Top of the World”.  Concluding with the Joni Mitchell inspired “Faint at Heart”, a new song to his repertoire, together with a little rock ‘n roll number in the form of “Jump That Train”, Brooks was relieved of his customary encore duties, as he headed back southward, either by road or rail.  As a long time reviewer of live music, which has been majorly disrupted by current events, evident in this being the first Northern Sky live review since March 2020, I came to it with trepidation, believing such events cannot possibly recreate the unique quality of a live performance, but I’m pleasantly surprised.  After the initial glitches with the streaming, I found the concert in the end, to be most enjoyable and with a desire to see more such concerts, and to see Brooks once again in person as soon as this nightmare is over.

Daphne’s Flight – On Arrival | Fat Cat

It was at the 1995 Cambridge Folk Festival when Daphne first took flight, with five extraordinary women joining forces to pool their equally extraordinary voices and their songwriting chops, all of which would be captured shortly afterwards on their self-titled debut album.  Those five women, Chris While, Julie Matthews, Melanie Harrold, Christine Collister and Helen Watson would spend the subsequent twenty-odd years working on their own solo, duo and band careers, coming together once again in 2017 for their follow up album Knows Time, Knows Change and a mandatory live album the year after.  Now we see the arrival of a third studio album, which features ten original songs from the pens of these five women.  There’s the highly inventive “Turn the Microphones Off”, a scream in the dark for these times, with the ever perceptive Helen Watson delivering a message that really should be heeded.  Christine Collister flexes her muscular soul-drenched vocal cords all over her own smouldering “You Got Me Going”, which evokes a mixture of Sister Rosetta and Aretha all rolled into one.  Julie Matthews, no stranger to a good melody and fine poetry, brings us “Be Amelia”, which tips a hat in gratitude to those extraordinary women from our past, while long time musical partner Chris While brings Charlie Dore into the frame, for the co-written “Saturday With Mr Rameer”, which includes one of those spine-tingling melodies that stays with us.  Melanie Harrold draws the sisterhood together in “This Woman Today”, an anthem that could be taken to church, where rafters would be raised with ease.  All the right ingredients are here, songs with a point to them, injected with humour and soul and delivered in voices that mean business.  With the fearless Dave Bowie Jr adding double bass to an otherwise exclusively female pool of talent, On Arrival has certainly arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Turn the Microphone Off is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne – Rakes and Misfits | Grimdon Records

Rakes & Misfits comes four years after Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne’s debut solo album Outway Songster and finds the young singer once again accompanied by a growing collection of concertinas and melodeons, but not necessarily all at the same time.  As one third of the folk trio Granny’s Attic, Cohen has further developed his appreciation of English traditional folk song and folk tunes, who includes several such songs here, notably “The Jolly Highwayman” and “Strawberry Lane”, a derivative of the “Elfin Knight” ballad.  The entire album has been recorded live from the floor as it were, with no overdubs, giving it an overall live feel throughout.  It really does sound as if he’s in the room there with you.  One of Cohen’s new adventures is in his own developing song writing credentials, evident in such songs as “Tom King” and “Countryman in Birmingham”, both of which are delivered in a style that fits in perfectly with the rest of the material on the album, an album of songs that look at some of the characters who don’t necessarily toe the line or conform to the norms of their day.

Female Rake/The Drunken Drummer is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

Hoth Brothers Band – Tell Me How You Feel | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins

The cover mixes Dorathea Lange styled dust bowl photography and huge cinemascope credits lettering.  Hoth Brothers play a languid effortless Americana, like a bruised Gillian Welch track, with the three vocalists giving a warmth, integrity and grit to the music.  The trio with three musicians, three voices and Erdington and McCutcheon’s blend of cinematic and folk writing offers up a wealth of material.  “Judith” the opening track is alive with the front porch Appalachian feel of The Carter Family.  “Tell Me What You’re Thinking” mixes questions with some sharp current comment that deliver barbs within the warmth of the call and response song.  “Cliff Fendler” is a beautiful native US flower, not a County session pedal steel player.  The song is one of those wonderful slow songs The Hoth Brothers do well and a really fine tune.  “Slickhorn” has a little studio presence on Boris McCutcheon and Bard Eddington’s vocals, with the duetting voices having a touch of Springsteen in Tom Joad or Nebraska mode.  This song for the San Juan River and kicking back has real atmosphere and presence.  Two vocals and Greg Williams drums are the build, with the addition of Sarah Ferrell’s voice is the beautiful reveal.  “The Passage” is another song steeped in Gothic atmosphere and space, like the best of The Willard Grant Conspiracy it crackles with electricity.  WGC and a slow Bob Dylan flow through the wonderful “Poor Man’s Light” with sharp lyrics and some strong duet vocals from the band.  “Volendam” is a gentle blues dance with that languid lope that the trio do so well. “Cherry Pits” with a very real false start, some splendid slide notes from Bard’s guitar and Boris’ vocal is a deeper Delta Blues.  “Trouble and Desire” is a perfect Country song with a huge vocals and sweet guitar and mandolin picking.  The arrangement and interplay between the trio is smooth and effortless perfection, almost telepathic.  “Pappy’s Last Drive” is a joyful romp about the passing over of beloved dog, the playing and some Emmylou like harmonies build beauty into the telling.  “Boogieman Mesa” is a rich short story or pen picture from the New Mexico Town whose life flavoured and titled Boris’ fine 2020 album.  “One Hard Rain” has a tension between the beautiful acappella voices and the almost biblical cautionary tale of the last twelve months.  I bet this is a real “hairs on the back of the neck” moment live. Sarah delivers a superb lead vocal on “Wilding Of Robby” dripping with atmosphere against string bass, guitar and Mandolin.  The track builds Bard’s Gallows Pole banjo riff with a great trio vocal part.  Final song is written by Lewie Wickham.  Hoth reckon Wickham’s song writing captures the spirit of New Mexico like no else can.  The fact that the words, with Bard’s delivery sit perfectly on the album, suggests a shared vision and that the trio are being a little modest.  Songs like “Sam Hill”, “One Hard Rain” and “Poor Man’s Light” place current trials and troubles in a wider folk continuum, giving the album a timeless feel.  The Hoth Brothers trio create an eternal appealing music, their almost telepathic empathy and timing as players, along with tenderness and a little of a rough ragged edge to make it real is just a delight.

Trouble and Desire is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

Adam Beattie – Somewhere Round the Bend | Self Release

Known for his recent work with PicaPica, the Scots singer songwriter takes centre stage with his new album Somewhere Round the Bend, as both producer and multi-instrumentalist, while taking care of most of the parts himself with the help of a select few.  When PicaPica released their debut album on Rough Trade Records, all eyes and ears appeared to be on the two lead singers Josienne Clarke and Samantha Whates, but what of the seated figure to the side?  A dark horse among us.  Discovering Adam Beattie’s music has been a revelation, an artist clearly in command of his own art, which he approaches with a gentle cracked vocal and a clear understanding of melody and song structure.  Taking his early jazz, blues, country and traditional folk influences as a starting point, Adam gives his stories an almost cinematic treatment, in some cases reminiscent of Sergio Leone or Wim Wenders movies, the landscapes becoming more vivid upon each listen.  “Stripped to the Bone” for instance, which uses as a backdrop to the refugee crisis, the Temple of Zeus, a powerful and dominating visual force.  There again, Adam can take a simple almost burlesque musical theme for the short burst of “Grottammare” as a prelude for the tender “Sickle Red Moon”, for which Adam borrows his Chet Baker influence to good effect.  Delving further into the songs on this album requires a spoiler alert, just like the movies.  Perhaps it would be better to just check this one out and enjoy the journey. 

Somewhere Round the Bend is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

Ninebarrow – A Pocket Full of Acorns | Winding Track

I really shouldn’t be surprised at the quality of this album, having heard all the duo’s back catalogue and having caught one or two of their festival sets over the last few years, but in a strange way I am.  This is a superb record, which is a demonstration of two musicians at their very best.  The fourth album by Dorset’s Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, otherwise known as Ninebarrow, is released in exceptional times, yet the quality of the arrangements and the delivery is exceptional.  “Under the Fence”, a derivative of the traditional “Cold Haily Windy Night” is both dramatic and atmospheric as it draws our attention to not only the duo’s dove-tailed voices and instrumental prowess, but also to their hand picked collaborators, Evan Carson on percussion, Lee Mackenzie on cello and John Parker on double bass.  If “Come January” had been released in 1970, it would probably have been considered for Simon and Garfunkel’s final studio album, to sit comfortably alongside Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “The Boxer”, if that’s not being over complimentary.  Jon and Jay have a similar vocal communication, which is never taken for granted.  The assurance of the voices on the opening song is followed by a more fragile vocal that introduces “Nestledown”, which is both affecting and tender, evoking the fragility of the Dartford Warbler, which the song is a tribute to.  The well known “John Barleycorn” is treated to a fine unaccompanied intro, which with the assistance of Jon’s reed organ, maintains a hymnal quality throughout.  To top it all, Jon and Jay include a restrained shanty towards the end, “Farewell Shanty”, which will no doubt please those relishing in the sudden enthusiasm for such things, followed by “Sailor’s All”, which brings this remarkable album to a fine conclusion.   

SomeRiseSomeFall – No Simple Highway | Fitzz

Led by project director Michael Fitzgerald, the SomeRiseSomeFall project sets out to assist organisations to help those facing mental health and other challenges.  What better way than to involve music and songs of a sensitive nature, to find, rework and re-imagine some of the finest songs around, with the help of an impressive collective of young Irish musicians.  No Simple Highway features some surprising results, as these singers breath new life into songs that might otherwise have escaped our notice, Anna Mitchell’s beautiful reading of both Country Joe McDonald’s mid-60s “Thought Dream” and Roy Wood’s mid-70s “The Rain Came Down On Everything” for example, assured performances both.  John Blek chooses a more faithful route for Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”, which sounds like it could’ve been performed at an all-nighter at Les Cousins in 1965.  Other songs given the SomeRiseSomeFall treatment include Joanna Newsom’s “Swansea” interpreted by Kevin Herron, albeit via a Bombay Bicycle Club arrangement,  The Milk Carton Kids’ sublime “Years Gone By”, delivered by Dylan Howe and a fine interpretation of the old Grateful Dead number “Stella Blue” by Marlene Enright, as you imagine her perform in a smoky Belgian bar, leaning against an upright piano, illuminated by a single light from above.  These songs are guaranteed to take you somewhere else, and probably somewhere special.

John Baumann – Country Shade | The Next Waltz | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Whether arriving at the music of John Baumann via his band The Panhandlers or as an acclaimed solo artist, what you’re sure to find is a gifted Texan songwriter who manages to find poetic turns of phrase in the dust and grit of everyday life.  Baumann’s latest album Country Shade, his third solo LP since his 2014 debut, will please a wide demographic of listeners from New Country fans to dyed in the wool Rockabillies.  “Flight Anxiety”, for example, is rock n roll whilst the more tender “Daylights Burning” and “If You Really Love Someone” are sprawling country love songs, each containing gorgeous melodies and harmonies.  Whilst the highlight of the album for this reviewer is the wonderfully infectious “Homesick for the Heartland”, with its tight rhythm and weeping lap steel guitar, it would be remiss of me to overlook the album’s closing track.  “Grandfather’s Grandson” is one of those timeless, heartfelt songs that could only come out of the Lonestar State, and one that places Baumann beside the likes of Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell in that long line of true greats.

Homesick for the Heartland is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

The Magpie Arc – EP3 | Collective Perspective

The third in a series of three EPs that serve as an introduction to The Magpie Arc, a five-piece Sheffield/Edinburgh band made up of Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson, Adam Holmes, Tom A Wright and Alex Hunter.  Once again an EP that comes with its surprises, notably a fine reworking of Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta”, with Adam taking the lead, accompanied by Nancy’s Cajun-style fiddle and Martin’s searing electric guitar.  It’s Folk Rock with a refreshing new angle, revealing to us once again a band that really needs to be seen live at our (and their) earliest convenience.  The most refreshing thing about The Magpie Arc is that it sets out as a new band and not as a project, something that has become a little bit twee now, much in the same way as the ‘concept album’ became the nail in the coffin for the Prog era.  Back to basics, back to proper ‘worked in’ music and back to developing a style without all the pretence of a funded ‘project’.  The four-track EP also features a new Nancy Kerr song “Greenswell”, reminiscent in style of Fairport’s Liege and Lief era, notably “The Deserter”, together with a new reading of Dick Gaughan’s “What You Do With What You’ve Got”, with Martin reminding us once again of his late father-in-law Roy Bailey’s fine repertoire.

Loretta is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

Katie Spencer – Hurt in Your Heart | Self Release

Over the past few years, Katie Spencer has found that healthy collaboration with others has been the key to her meteoric advancement as a singer and musician in her own right, the singer songwriter having been seen working with both Danny Thompson and the late Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Rory Gallagher drummer Ted McKenna, while taking those influences seriously.  For her new EP, Katie pays tribute to the late John Martyn with three mid-period songs and this time with the help of two of the musicians who have worked with Martyn during his long and successful career, Alan Thomson on fretless bass and Spencer Cozens on piano and synth.  The Hurt in Your Heart EP captures the spirit of John Martyn, not so much the late Sixties folk singer, or the playful joker, nor indeed the hard drinking tough guy, but the essence of the soulful performer he could often be.   With a couple of songs from Martyn’s late Seventies One World period, “Couldn’t Love You More” and “Small Hours”, together with the title song from his slightly later Grace and Danger album, Katie captures the feel of Martyn’s most sublime work perfectly.

Hurt in Your Heart is featured on this week’s edition of the Vaults radio show.

John Van Der Kiste | Roy Wood: The Move, Wizzard and Beyond | Self-published | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Back when I was an obsessed pre-teen Beatles fan, certain that no other song in the world would ever capture the unadulterated joy of “Penny Lane”, my dad asked if I’d ever heard anything by The Move.  When he realised that I hadn’t, he immediately ushered me towards the nearest record player and introduced me to “Blackberry Way”.  It was, just as my old man had anticipated, a revelation.  Here was a song that was equally jubilant and haunting and made every hair on my body stand to attention.  And whose, prey tell, was this unique and exciting voice?  Naturally, I gobbled down everything The Move had released, including that evergreen anthem of the Summer of Love, “Flowers in the Rain”, the playfully arresting “Fire Brigade”, the powerhouse that is “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”, the melodically astounding “Chinatown” and blissfully jangly “Tonight”.  My favourite to this very day, however, is the captivating and whimsical “Curly”, a song which never fails to lift my spirits, even in the middle of a pandemic.  John Van Der Kiste’s biography of the man who wrote all those cherished songs was always going to be a delight to read, but I didn’t expect it to be so well-written and absorbing.  Indeed, it’s all too easy to overlook the plethora of self-published music biographies that float around the Amazon listings, given that so many of them are little more than extensions of fan blogs or, worse, misguided adventures in vanity publishing.  Van Der Kiste’s book is neither.  From page one, it’s clear that the book is a labour of love by a devoted fan of Roy Wood and, fortunately, one who resists the temptation to flesh the content out with needless incidental detail and speculation.  What you get with Roy Wood: The Move, Wizzard and Beyond is a no-frills celebration of a musician and songwriter who should maintain his seat alongside Paul McCartney, Ray Davies and Graham Nash in the long line of national treasures.  The book provides an engaging overview of Roy’s childhood, during which the future member of ELO was brought up on a healthy diet of Rossini and Tchaikovsky, and recounts the moment he first heard Hank Marvin’s guitar which “sounded like it had been dipped in Dettol”.  This life-altering sound bestowed an obsession with the guitar upon a young Roy and it eventually led to the forming of several bands.  It was with The Nightriders, later to become The Idle Race, that he got his first writing credit and where he met Jeff Lynne.  It was also here that the typically very quiet and reserved Roy adopted his penchant for the flamboyant clothing and wild hair and beard styles that would come to define The Move and Wizzard.  Tracing Roy’s voyage through The Move, ELO and Wizzard, Van Der Kiste reveals the highs and lows of late sixties and early seventies pop, with some eyebrow-raising tales of backstage disagreements and on-stage rows, mostly due to the usual collision of egos.  But Wood seems to maintain a sense of balance and modesty throughout whilst his fellow bandmates fight over who gets the brightest spotlight. Indeed, as the fame and fortune of the sixties and seventies fades away and Roy embarks upon a quieter, though not entirely fruitless final two decades of the century, the reader acquires a clear sense that this legendary songwriter and astounding performer has come away with his marbles and dignity intact.  And whilst he still doesn’t claim a penny in royalties for “Flowers in the Rain”, due to a prank that upset Harold Wilson, Roy continues to enjoy his legacy as the man who wrote some of the most enchanting songs ever committed to tape.

Luca Chino Ferrari – Glen Sweeney’s Book of Alchemies | November Books

More of a scrapbook than a rock biography and seemingly devoid of any serious editing, judging by the amount of missing or incorrectly spelled words and the occasional faux pas (weren’t the indecisive ‘vultures’ in The Jungle Book and not Dumbo as stated? but that’s me being far too picky for my own good).   This collection of writings, poems, lyrics and interviews, gathered together in one volume gives us an insight into the mind of Glen Sweeney, leader and driving force behind one of the most unusual and clearly out of step bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s.   Glen Sweeney’s Book of Alchemies looks at the Third Ear Band’s origins from the early ‘underground’ bands Giant Sun Trolley and Hydrogen Jukebox, through to the various revisits by subsequent combos in the band’s post heyday years.   Some of the bitterness that lurks behind each phase of the band’s existence creeps in through the interviews, conducted between 1996 and 2019 with various ex-members of the band, together with one or two of the key protagonists involved in the band’s colourful story.  We find evidence of this when reading between the lines as well as when reading the actual lines themselves, most prominently through the account of founder member, the late oboist Paul Minns, who makes his feelings known with little ambiguity, notably when he refers to his former band mate as both the ‘founder and the destroyer’ of the band and Al Stewart as bordering on the ‘saccharine’ and being ‘as musically interesting as cardboard’.  We get the feeling that the members of the Third Ear Band were at loggerheads with themselves, with the authorities and with their peers alike.  In one or two cases, you imagine that the author and one time manager of the band, is having to prize information out of his interviewees with a crowbar, Sweeney’s former muse Carolyn Looker for instance, whose almost monosyllabic responses reveal little.  With the author following a different set of principles that that of a regular band biographer, we find much repetition in the interviews and writings, therefore many of the band’s key moments are revisited time and again throughout the book, such as the band’s notable turning point, when they had their equipment nicked, which resulted in the band becoming a totally acoustic band.  There’s only so many times you can go over that incident, although later in the book there’s a suggestion that it might have been a deliberate ‘in-house’ job.  The book includes around fifty illustrations, including photographs of the band, posters, flyers and ads, together with a section on Glen Sweeney’s playful soundbites.  There’s also a detailed discography and an extensive day-by-day chronology, which provides a useful timeline of events, especially for serious students of the underground movement of the period.  The main bonus for Third Ear Band fans though, is the accompanying six-track CD, which features the pieces that would have made up The Dragon Wakes, the band’s legendary and previously unreleased third album which would have followed Alchemy, Air Earth Fire Water and the Third Ear Band’s Music From Macbeth, the soundtrack to Roman Polanski’s film version of the Scottish play, had the record company not dumped them.

Ezio Lunedie talks about his band Ezio backstage at the Duchess in York (2009)

Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow talk about playing before Billy Bragg at the Beverley Folk Festival (2009)

Curtis Eller talks about his ‘song and dance routine’ at the Beverley Folk Festival (2009)

1. The Shadows – The Shadows ( Columbia SX1374 – 1961)

The significance of this 1961 album is that it was the very first LP that reached my ears, when I was all but four or five years old.  It was the only record in my dad’s collection that might be described as a contemporary pop album and it was the only one to feature guitars on the cover.  Most of the records stored under the gramophone lid were Big Band or Swing records by the likes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, but this was immediately different, with four musicians, Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan posed in a relaxed fashion, each sporting their best Cashmere sweaters fresh from the catalogue and each trying their best to look fantastically cool, with varying degrees of success.  Recorded at Abbey Road Studios between autumn 1960 and summer 1961, the recordings were made on analogue equipment and in real time, with each track recorded on a one-track-per-day basis and with no apparent overdubs.  If the take was messed up, then it was straight on to take 2 and so on. That’s how it was in those days.  Although the LP now sounds a little dated, especially the vocal performances, some of the instrumentals still sound fresh, such as “Blue Star”, “Sleepwalk” and “Nivram”, which the observant among us will have already noticed is ‘Marvin’ spelled backwards.

2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Smash Hits (Polydor ACB 00219 – 1968)

If The Shadows was the first LP I heard, then Smash Hits was the first LP I ever bought with my own pocket money (£1), second hand from an older boy down the street, who had allegedly ‘moved on’ from such things.  I’m in my sixties now and I still haven’t moved on from it.  Up to this point, my record collection had been made up of exclusively 45rpm singles, some of which resided in a plastic wallet which I referred to as an ‘album’, others were kept in what I described as ‘the little orange box’.  This was a most exciting progression, owning a real long playing gramophone record that crackled with static when removed from its inner sleeve.  I distinctly remember placing the cover on the shelf, then standing back to admire my LP collection (of one), eagerly anticipating the next addition, which would follow a week later, presumably after being paid for shoving newspapers in letterboxes around the village.  Favourite songs “The Wind Cries Mary”, “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze”.

3. The Roches – The Roches (Warner Brothers K56683 – 1979)

As the New Jersey siblings point out in their autobiographical opener “We”, this trio was first of all a duo comprising elder sisters Maggie and Terre, who established themselves a good ten years before younger sister Suzzy joined to record this, their debut LP as a trio.  Recorded at the Hit Factory in New York City, with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp producing and also contributing some of his idiosyncratic trademark guitar licks, the LP features ten songs that showcase the group’s faultless sibling harmonies, a sound I first heard sometime in the early 1980s.  Slightly quirky, all ten original songs demonstrate the trio’s unique vocal sound, which has never dated.  I get the same rush today, midway through “Hammond Song” as I did back in 1981.  It’s difficult to choose a favourite track, though I would be happy for either “Hammond Song”, “Quitting Time” or “Runs in the Family” to be played at my funeral, if that’s not too morbid, or even “Mr Sellack”, depending upon my mood at the time.

4. Kate and Anna McGarrigle – Kate and Anna McGarrigle (Warner Brothers K56218 – 1976)

When we first discover voices as good as these, we should really have taken note of where we were and what we were doing, but for the life of me I can’t remember at all.  It might have been on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in the mid 1970s or on John Peel show, but there again it could’ve been while lying semi-conscious in a dry bath after a late night party in an attic flat along Broxholme Lane in Doncaster, a usual pursuit after a night at The Blue Bell on Baxtergate.  It was most probably as a result of being obsessed with all things Loudon Wainwright III, who was at the time married to Kate, but I’m still not entirely sure.  Heady daze indeed.  What I do know, is that a fair old shiver went sailing up my spine when I first heard “(Talk to Me Of) Mendocino”, “Heart Like a Wheel” and the highly infectious “Complainte Pour Ste-Catherine”, delivered in French, all of which are featured on this superb LP.  The last time I saw Kate and Anna was at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer of 1995, shortly after the two sisters lost their mum.  It was an emotional affair to say the least as they held back the tears during their set.  We then lost Kate in 2010, the mother of both Rufus and Martha, both recording artists in their own right.  I doubt we’ll ever hear anything quite as special as these two voices again.

5. Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch (Transatlantic TRA125 – 1965)

During my last couple of years at High School, I was taught by a young art teacher who could’ve been described at the time as ‘relatively hip’ and who would often bring records into class by such obscure guitar players as the Reverend Gary Davis and Stefan Grossman, all of which were, to my ears at any rate, a marked improvement on “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Grows” and “Wandrin’ Star”.  On one such occasion, this teacher brought in the debut LP by a then relatively obscure Scots guitar player, whose name I couldn’t pronounce, but whose guitar playing made me sit up and take note.  We were told to stop working, put our pencils down and gather around the Dansette, whereupon he lifted the arm and hovered the needle over the last track on side one, asking us to concentrate on the lyrics.  At first, I thought “Needle of Death” was a cautionary tale for Singer sewing machine users, but it then dawned on me that our teacher was delivering a warning about the growing use of heroin in the town.  Bert Jansch entered my world in the art class that afternoon and he has remained there for fifty years and counting.  Bert always remained a distant figure, despite his later records becoming ‘must have’ additions to my collection, and he was perhaps the only musician I was too much in awe of to go up to on the numerous occasions when I saw him play live.  I did say “hi” to him sometime in the 1980s as we passed on the steps of the Leeds Astoria, but he just kept on walking down as I walked up.  Memorable songs on Bert Jansch include “Strolling Down the Highway”, “Running for Home”, “Needle of Death” and “Angie”, a tune we all had to learn before we could call ourselves guitar players.  It’s all here, it’s all you need.  Bert is also the only musician whose grave I visited to pay my respects.  I talked to him on that occasion.  I’m not the only one who misses him.

6. John Renbourn – John Renbourn (Transatlantic TRA135 – 1966)

The first thing that attracted me to John Renbourn’s debut solo LP was the cover shot, which shows the folk troubadour leaning against a disused site beneath an officious Greater London Council notice instructing visitors to report to the general foreman before entering.  Several decades later I would bump into John standing in a similar manner on a street in York, this time with his guitar in its case as he waited for his son to lock the car up.  On this occasion, he didn’t have a fag in his mouth.  I’m not sure when I first became aware of him, possibly when I first heard the Basket of Light record.  Recorded in 1965, the LP showcases many of the diverse styles the guitarist subsequently became noted for, including baroque folk, blues and spirituals.  My copy is now adorned with his familiar signature and obligatory ‘star’ motif, which I got him to do a good few decades after this album’s initial release.  Unlike his noted collaborator Bert Jansch, I never had any reservations about going up to him for a chat, something I did on one or two occasions, where I found him to be one of the most approachable and kind musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.  When I listen to such songs and instrumentals as “Judy”, “Beth’s Blues” and “John Henry”, I always seem to return to a comfortable time, surrounded by pace posters, impractical coloured light bulbs in every socket and the aroma of several joss sticks burning simultaneously, with mum downstairs fixing dinner.

7. Amazing Blondel – England (Island ILPS9205 – 1972)

I first became aware of the Amazing Blondel’s England LP when I saw it in the window of Ken’s Swap Shop on St Sepulchre Gate in Doncaster back in 1972 and I decided there and then that it would be mine.  Climbing over the junk shop debris, while simultaneously holding my breath (who says men can’t multitask?), I troubled Ken to negotiate the hazardous terrain of the window area in order to salvage this LP from the sun’s rays.  I held it close as I offered him a one pound note in exchange.  I then ran home, lifted the lid of my Fidelity twin speaker affair, placed the needle on the grooves, laid back on my bed and read every single word on the gate fold sleeve, another world.  As a kid, I always lamented never having had the opportunity to see the trio live back in the early 1970s, but was pleased as punch when the original trio reformed in the late 1990s to do a few gigs.  I recall sitting in a pub in Cottingham awaiting the arrival of John Gladwin, Eddie Baird and Terry Wincott, who I only knew through the photographs on their LP covers at home.  I wondered if I would still recognise them; the hair should have surely gone by now I reasoned.  When they walked through the door and took to their respective chairs, I not only recognised them, I felt I already knew them.  I saw the band three times during that period with my son, who had grown up with their music and had himself become a fan, possibly due to their albums being played most Sunday mornings since his birth.  The last time I saw the band was in October 1998 and I doubt I’ll ever see them again, which is a shame.  This album features such notables as “Dolor Dulcis (Sweet Sorrow)”, “A Spring Air” and the “The Paintings” suite.  They are my favourite band, despite having been lumbered with the reputation of being the worst band ever to play at Glastonbury, but there again, they do have a crumhorn in their musical arsenal, so it probably serves them right.

8. Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (Elektra EKS74021 – 1968)

Then there was the curious look that dad would often give me as we passed on the stairs, the sort of look that suggested I might actually not be the produce of his loins.  This was probably after hearing the vague leakage of Mike Heron singing “Mercy I Cry City” or “A Very Cellular Song”, or Robin Williamson wishing he was a “Witches Hat”, filtering out through the cracks between the door of my bedroom only to invade his space.  That same look would continue through tea time as he passed the salt over or as he peered from behind his evening newspaper, carefully scrutinising me as he checked the score draws, wondering if I might possibly have come from Venus.  Why wasn’t his Shadows LP good enough for me anymore?  The Incredible String Band’s mighty fine The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter still goes around on the turntable every now and again, only this time the strange looks come from my wife, as Robin Williamson sings “Earth water fire and air, met together in a garden fair, put in a basket bound with skin, if you answer this riddle, if you answer this riddle, you’ll never begin”.  I knew I should have married someone more like Licorice, had kids like that, had a dog like that and lived somewhere deep in a forest, like that!

9. Various Artists – Woodstock Original Soundtrack (Atlantic K60001 – 1970)

The Woodstock Festival, or to give it its official title, ‘The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair presents An Aquarian Exposition in White Lake NY’, left a lasting impression on me, despite the fact that I wasn’t there.  Too young and too far away is my excuse, being just twelve and a half and White Lake being three and a half thousand miles away.  I experienced the festival as most of us did through the film, which was released a year after the event and which I saw sometime later in the 1970s, after queuing up at the now demolished Gaumont Theatre on the crossroads of Hallgate and Thorne Road in Doncaster.  I first heard the triple disc soundtrack album in 1973 after borrowing it from a fan of The Who who I worked with and immediately took to the music, the atmosphere and the legendary announcements.  In the subsequent weeks, months and years, I would seek out the music of just about every one of the bands and musicians featured on these six sides, including CSNY, Santana, Arlo Guthrie, Ten Years After, Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish.  Hendrix, Cocker, Canned Heat and The Who, I was already acquainted with.  Despite Guthrie’s embarrassingly stoned announcements, that there would be “about a million and a half people here by tonight”, which actually turned out to be a third of that estimate, together with the fact that “New York State Thruway is closed man, can you dig it?”, there was an unprecedented gathering of people who turned out for the stormy weekend, which began on Friday 15 August, 1969 with Richie Havens and concluded on the morning of Monday 18 August, with Jimi Hendrix, the event running over by a good eleven hours.  The three-panel centre spread photo taken by Jim Marshall shows the extent of the crowd, which is still impressive today.  As a live LP, the sound is a little dodgy in places, due to various bits of buzzing and bleeping, probably caused by the damp weather, but as a historical record of probably the most famous pop festival ever, it’s an impressive statement.  Great moments include CSNY’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”, Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner”.  Did I mention Sha Na Na?  Thought not.

10.  Third Ear Band – Alchemy (Harvest SHVL 756 – 1969)

At a time when such bands as Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and The Edgar Broughton Band were furnishing EMI’s specially created Harvest label with music for the growing progressive rock market, the label was also unafraid to take one or two risks, introducing such outfits as The Battered Ornaments, Tea and Symphony, Quatermass and from the folk community, Shirley and Dolly Collins and Roy Harper, not to mention the highly uncertain output of a solo Syd Barrett.  Perhaps the most unusual of all the outfits on the Harvest roster was the Third Ear Band, whose trance-like acoustic medieavel music was immediately at odds with everything else that was going on at the time.  The instruments alone would bring on a nose bleed to those very much accustomed to the more electric sounds of Ummagumma, Deep Purple in Rock and Wasa Wasa for instance, with the oboe, recorder, cello, violin and hand drums being the order of a Third Ear Band day.  I picked up a second hand copy of this album shortly after its original release in 1969, which I found languishing in the window of Ken’s Swap Shop on St Sepulchre Gate West in Doncaster, which could have been an unwanted gift or a Michael Chapman fan’s error of judgement.  ‘But it’s on the Harvest label?’  During their tenure as a regular outfit on the underground scene, the band would garner some wider attention after appearing at a series of Hyde Park concerts, playing on the same bills as The Rolling Stones, Blind Faith and King Crimson.  The band would find further success, albeit limited, when they scored the soundtrack to Roman Polanski’s blood curdling Macbeth in 1971, who actually also appeared in the film as minstrels in the gallery.  Jethro Tull were probably busy.  It was the cover artwork that drew my initial attention, which seemed to fit in with my then obsession with Dennis Wheatley novels and morbid curiosity of all things Aleister Crowley, something I was pleased to grow out of by the time I reached seventeen.  “Stone Circle” is probably my favourite track from this completely unusual instrumental album.

1. Joe Cocker – Delta Lady (Regal Zonophone RZ3024 – 1969)

At just 12 years old, my initial interest in the current pop music of the day, which included singles by such groups as Marmalade, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich, Amen Corner and The Monkees, was beginning to move forward, possibly after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience on Top of the Pops performing “Purple Haze”.  Throughout the 1960s the Beatles seemed to be in a category of their own and remained so even after their eventual break up, which has continued through their legacy to this day.  It would have been easy for me to choose a Beatles song to kick start this series of releases.  I’ve chosen however, a song that came to me after watching a local rock band perform the song during one of their regular Sunday afternoon rehearsals at the guitarist and drummer’s dad’s house in Doncaster.  The band was called Swamp and their repertoire was made up of such rock classics as “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Badge” and a pretty faithful version of Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady”, which was most famously covered by Joe Cocker and which featured on the Sheffield singer’s self-titled second LP.  Released in 1969, the same year that Cocker made his iconic appearance at the Woodstock Festival, performing his soulful version of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”, complete with air guitar, star-spangled boots and tie-died granddad vest, “Delta Lady” provided this young 12 year-old with a musical start that would develop into a large collection of grown up songs, after bidding farewell to the Bubblegum of “Ha Ha Said the Clown” forever.

2. Thunderclap Newman – Something in the Air (Track Records 604031 – 1969)

If there was one record that captured the spirit of 1969, then it was Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air”.  The single was played constantly on the radio at the time, despite it only spending three weeks at the top of the charts.  Although jazz pianist Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman played his familiar honky tonk piano on the single, it was drummer Speedy Keen (incorrectly spelled Keene on the label) who wrote the song and provided it with his distinctive vocal, augmented by Jimmy McCulloch on guitar, who went on to play with Paul McCartney’s Wings in the 1970s.  The single, which was produced by The Who’s Pete Townshend who also plays bass, became something of a one-hit wonder for the band and is still played frequently on the radio to this day.  The song was also famously used in a scene in the Peter Sellers/Ringo Starr film The Magic Christian, where city gents were invited to wade through a vat by the Thames, containing 100 gallons of blood, 200 gallons of urine and 500 cubic feet of animal manure, in search of ‘free money’.  

3. Jr Walker and the All Stars – Sweet Soul (Tamla Motown TMG637)

Sweet Soul is the B side to “Come See About Me” by Jr Walker and the All Stars, released in 1968 on the Tamla Motown label.  Not to be mistaken for Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley, this short instrumental was one of the staple records played at the Top Rank on Silver Street in Doncaster during their thriving soul and Motown nights at the club and features Walker’s distinctive wailing tenor sax.  I can’t listen to the record without it transporting me back to my youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the only long-haired boy in the club wearing all the current clobber, from the bottom up: brown brogues, ankle socks, Levis Sta-Prest strides, Ben Sherman gingham shirt and v-neck green sweater with the obligatory Yorkshire rose badge sewn on.

4. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Up Around the Bend (Liberty LBF15354 – 1970)

I don’t know why the American rock and roll band Creedence Clearwater Revival meant so much to me in the late 1960s while I was still at school, but my little orange cuboid singles box had more CCR singles in it than any other artist at the time, each on the familiar vivid blue Liberty label. Written by John Fogerty, “Up Around the Bend” has a memorable high-pitched guitar riff, which permeates throughout the three-minute song and goes hand in glove with Fogerty’s trademark sneering vocals. The lyrics seem to suggest a ‘calling on’ song, as Fogerty beckons the listener to join him at the end of the highway, in the woods rather than the city, another early 1970s song that suggests the ‘back to the garden’ myth. The song was also included on the band’s fourth studio LP Cosmo’s Factory as did the flip side “Run through the Jungle”. As with many bands of the era, it didn’t end well.

5. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile (Track 2095 001 – 1968)

I remember marching up to the counter at Foxes Records in the Arndale Centre in Doncaster with six shillings in my hand, to almost demand that they hand over the latest single release by the Jimi Hendrix Experience just a short time after the death of the guitarist in a London flat. The single, which might be categorised as an EP, the record having two tracks on the B side, the Billy Roberts/Dino Valenti/Whoever song “Hey Joe” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, was released as a tribute to the late musician and was one of the first records to be added to my growing collection of singles that ventured outside the confines of what could be described as pop music, stepping into full blown rock territory. It was also one of the first records of mine that dad just couldn’t cope with and this alone made me love it even more.

6. Bob and Marcia – Young, Gifted and Black (Harry J HJ6605 – 1970)

If you don’t remember this thoroughly engaging reggae version of Nina Simone’s gospel-tinged song “To Be Young Gifted and Black” released back in 1970, then you were simply not there, that’s for sure.  It was played almost relentlessly on the radio, reaching number 5 in the UK charts in the March of that year and was a hit on both the radio and on dance floors up and down the country.  Remember, a number 1 in 2021 is but a fraction of the sales of a number 5 in 1970.  It begins with a short gentle piano run up, followed by three simple words ‘young, gifted and black’ and then that killer single bass note, but what a note it is.  It sends a warm shiver every time I hear it.  Bob and Marcia, the Jamaican duo Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths, had already bowed out of the music business by the middle of the decade and we didn’t hear much of them subsequently, but like most of the singles in my little orange box, it only takes a couple of seconds after the needle hits the groove, to be transported right back there as if by magic.  Certain fragrances do this and certain tastes of course, but records do it best of all, especially that divine bass note.  I get an inexplicable feeling of complete joy upon each hearing, even fifty years on.

7. The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset (Pye 7N 17321 – 1967)

As a ten year-old, I was fortunate enough to spend a swinging week in Swinging London with my eleven year-old school pals in the summer of 1968. These were the days long before the Sony Walkman, yet I distinctly remember hearing pop songs throughout the week, possibly the leakage of sounds coming from the boutiques along Carnaby Street, or from transistor radios of market stall holders along Petticoat Lane, where I saw the Slinky and the Gyroscope toys for the first time, or maybe it’s possible that one of us had a portable radio with us, I’m not quite sure, it’s been a while. Rather annoyingly, I spent the week singing, whistling or humming some of these songs to myself as we walked along the streets of London, possibly in a feeble attempt to impress one of my female class mates; a fat lot of good that did! The song I remember most of all from this time was the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”, which illustrates this period so well. The Ray Davies song not only evokes this particular period, it also provides vivid mental pictures of the very heart of this fine city, with its dirty old river, its taxi lights shining at dusk and its chilly chilly evening time, while Terry and Julie keep a tight hold of one another as they cross Waterloo Bridge, possibly imagining their lives ahead. There’s an entire novel in these three verses and gorgeous chorus and therefore, I suggest this is possibly the best single ever.

8. Scott McKenzie – San Francisco (CBS 2816 – 1967)

In the so-called Summer of Love, I was ten years old and pretty much consumed with the pop music of the era, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to their American counterparts, such bands as The Turtles and The Loving Spoonful, not to mention The Monkees.  I still recall sitting on a hill in the misty Yorkshire Dales on a camping trip with my fellow cub scouts, sitting in a circle around Akela, who sang “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” accompanying herself on an Spanish guitar with a daisy chain crown atop her head.  The appeal was infectious, especially to a ten-year old away from home, creating a distraction that would last for the rest of the decade and probably well into the next.  Records and girls were inextricably linked.  The following year, when I made my first visit to London with school, I distinctly remember hanging around Piccadilly Circus watching hippies gather, while whistling – possibly the most irritating pursuit of my childhood – Scott McKenzie’s most famous song, which was written for him by the Mamas and Papas’ leader John Phillips.  I had no idea where San Francisco was but I knew I wanted to go there with or without flowers in my hair.

9. Ten Years After – Love Like a Man (Deram DM299 – 1970)

In 1970, Ten Years After was a band still recovering from the landmark event of the previous year in upstate New York, in fact some believe the band never actually recovered from Woodstock at all. The band’s drummer Rick Lee told me some years later that the band had already begun to implode well before their helicopter landed on the hillside on Max Yasgur’s farm just outside Bethel, but we tend to go with the myth on these things. The song that first attracted me to this British blues band, which was led by guitarist Alvin Lee, was “Love Like a Man”, with its instantly memorable slow opening riff, which leaned more towards the rock music of the day than any of the band’s previous twelve bar blues repertoire. The single was also notable for featuring on the flip side, a live version of the song, recorded at the Fillmore East and due to the length of the performance, was to be played at 33.1/3, which in turn provided much fun once selected to play on the jukebox at the Silver Link, our regular haunt back in the day.

10. Three Dog Night – Mama Told Me Not to Come (Stateside SS8052 – 1970)

The first time I became aware of Randy Newman was probably when he released “Short People” as a single, from his Little Criminals album back in 1977, which I thought he’d written especially for me. His songs however, I knew well before through cover versions without realising they were actually Newman songs. These included “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” by Alan Price, “Just One Smile” by Gene Pitney and notably, “Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night. In 1970, there were dozens of records that seemed to frame the era perfectly, most of which I would first hear on the radio, then go out and buy, then anally number and cross reference, before filing them away in the legendary little orange box, which I kept in close proximity to my newly acquired Fidelity Music Master twin speaker stereo system. Three Dog Night’s cover of this song, which featured Cory Wells’ almost panic-ridden voice and the future disco queen Donna Summer on backing vocals, was released on the orange Stateside record label and became a much played record at the time, a song that seemed to sum up how I felt about the late night parties I was attending at the time, when I really should’ve been practicing my algebra.

Playlist for Show 15.03.21 (#521)

Loretta – Magpie Arc (EP3)
Turn the Microphone Off – Daphne’s Flight (On Arrival)
Frank Delandry – Brooks Williams (Baby-O)
Whole Heart – Jessie Reid (Single)
She Wandered Through The Garden Fence – Procol Harum (Procol Harum)
Plaisir D’Amour – Marianne Faithfull (Marianne Faithfull)
Hurt In Your Heart – Katie Spencer (Hurt in Your Heart EP)
Here – Peter James Mallison (Selected Works)
Female Rake/The Drunken Drummer – Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne – Rakes and Misfits)
No News is Good News – Pert Near Sandstone (Rising Tide)
How Can We Love – Brittany Haas and Rachel Combs (The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project, Vol.1)
Homesick for the Heartland – John Baumann (Country Shade)
Trouble and Desire – Hoth Brothers Band (Tell Me How You Feel)
Blue Moon Brother – Mari Joyce (Dear Moon)
Home Is Where I Want To Be – Mott the Hoople (Wildlife)
Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen (Songs of Love and Hate)
Soldier Blue – Buffy Sainte-Marie (She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina)
Archive Interview – Ezio
Will O Winsbury – John Renbourn Group (Maid in Bremen)
Somewhere Round the Bend – Adam Beattie (Somewhere Round the Bend)
Tonight – The Move (Single)

Tracks from these three albums released fifty years ago this month can be heard on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show/Podcast

Much more can be found in our extensive archive by clicking on the panel below